"...I am fully alive and flying with faith soaring above the clouds creating what will be from what is not yet and meeting God in me and all around me. I dance with the doubt so I can fly with the faith."
From "Dancing Into Doubt, Flying Into Faith" Diana Wilcox ⓒ 2010

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Of Light and Darkness

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church - Montclair, NJ
December 16, 2012 - In the aftermath of the CT school massacre
Third Sunday of Advent - Year C
1st Reading - Zephaniah 3:14-20
Psalm - Canticle 9
2nd Reading - Philippians 4:4-7
Gospel - Luke 3:7-18

May God’s words alone be spoken, may God’s words alone be heard.  Amen.

During Superstorm Sandy, having fumbled in the dark for something with which to light a candle, I stood back in wonder at the amazing light that this single candle provided - the way it seemed to cut through the darkness and the cold, and how, when more were lit from it, the room came alive again.

We are once again plunged into darkness, a darkness of the soul.  The tragic loss of 26 people, including 20 children in Connecticut on Friday has left us stunned, our hearts in pain, amidst the lights and festivities of this season, the whole thing seems macabe - like a strange and horrible nightmare.  And in this darkness we fumble around for explainations.  We cry out for understanding, we ache in our hearts, we are weary with grief.

So many questions, and the easy answers elude us - they seem cheap, hollow.  Because - the truth is, there is no explaination - no answer that makes it all better, that makes it all comprehendable. 

And so, we are a people walking in darkness - a darkness of our hearts as we take in all that has happened.  It is a darkness that has been a part of humanity since the beginning of time.  A darkness that is always there, ready to envelop us - and as we have seen, it tragically permeates the soul of those who are deeply troubled.  The result is a spreading of that darkness to others, and a sense of hopelessness.

And we can wonder - where is God in the midst of this dark world?  Where is God in this tragedy, in this senseless loss. 

Amid the many responses flowing from the news, was a quote from a source beloved by children for decades, and perhaps we all need a bit of Mr. Rogers and his neighborhood at times like this.  Fred Rogers, a Presbyterian minister best known for his television show, “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood,” once said, "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping."  To this day, especially in times of "disaster," I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world."

You see, God isn’t absent when these things happen - but more present than can be imagined.  God grieves alongside us, and is the love that that is the candlelight that sustains us amid the darkness.  And God is found in the love that we offer to one another, and to those most affected.  It is the life that grows out of death - the light that overcomes darkness.

Into the darkness of this world, God entered and is entering.  Christ was not born into a world of light, but one filled with darkness.  Candles are not necessary in a fully lighted room.  Max Lucado, a writer and pastor, in response to Friday’s events, said it this way in a letter to God:

Dear God,

Your world seems a bit darker this Christmas. But you were born in the dark, right?  You came at night.  The shepherds were nightshift workers.  The Wise Men followed a star.  Your first cries were heard in the shadows.  To see your face, Mary and Joseph needed a candle flame.  It was dark. Dark with Herod's jealousy. Dark with Roman oppression. Dark with poverty. Dark with violence....

Oh, Lord Jesus, you entered the dark world of your day.  Won't you enter ours?  We are weary of bloodshed.  We, like the wise men, are looking for a star.  We, like the shepherds, are kneeling at a manger...

This Christmas, we ask you, heal us, help us, be born anew in us.”  

It is because we live in a world where darkness is ever present, ever possible, that Christ came, that Christ is, and that Christ will come again. 

We as a people of light - as the Body of Christ alive in the world today - are called to shine forth our light in the world.  To live as Christ lived, bringing people into the fullness of the light of God’s love.  Because God loved us enough to enter the darkness, to live among us as the light of life, we know that death and darkness never has the last word - we know the power of resurrection - that life grows out of death, and light overcomes darkness. 

So, as those around John the Baptist asked in our Gospel lesson, what are we to do?  What are we to do in the face of such horror? 

Grieve as Jesus grieved for Lazarus, as God grieves for those lost on Friday.  And respond, as God did in sending Christ into the darkness of the world.  Be the light of Christ in the world today.  The light of Christ that we await in Advent, and celebrate at Christmas, because we know it will always come - it is a light that is never extinguished - that no darkness can overtake fully.  Do as John the Baptist implores us and be the “helpers” that Fred Roger’s mom spoke about - the ones who respond with healing in a broken world.

As a single candle of hope, we have much light to give the world, but like those candles that cut through the darkness and cold in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, when we work together, as a people called by God to love and serve, united as the Body of Christ, we spread the light of Christ far and wide.   Let us reach out to one another in love, and spread that light, so that those living on the margins, those living in darkness, may know the healing power of God’s love. 

The light of Christ was not extinguished on the cross, but is present here - now - in each of us.  And the hope of God was not extinguished on Friday in an elementary school in Connecticut, but exists within each of us who reach out to those in need, hold the grieving in our arms, and love fiecely in the face of tragedy.

We know, as we heard in the reading from Phillipians today, and often as the blessing we receive in our worship, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”  What we experience in Christ, in the light that cuts through darkness, in the fullness of relationship with God, it is a love that truly does surpass all understanding.  It cannot be neatly boxed up into easy answers in the wake of tragedy, or even in the joy of thanksgiving, but is there nontheless, if we open our hearts to it.

We await the coming of that light into our darkened world in this season of Advent - a light that was, and is, is to come.  Let us stand united - in the warmth of God’s love - bearing the light of that love into this world - a world in pain, a world in need, a world waiting for hope.

Let us shine the light of Jesus Christ. for others to see.  Let us be the light of Christ bringing others into the fullness of relationship with God.  So that together we may, as the Body of Christ alive in the world today, overcome the darkness of our own hearts, and those of others, and spread the light of God’s all inclusive love around the world.  So that those walking in darkness, may see a great light.


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Is Campus Ministry Worth It?

I just returned from the Episcopal Campus Chaplains Conference and the Global Chaplains Conference in Higher Education.  At both conferences I was able meet with people from campuses large and small who were engaged in vital mission with students, staff and faculty.

It often seems that folks in the larger church equate ministry on a college campus as an extension of youth ministry - thinking that what we do is have pizza once a week with students during a bible study.  Campus ministry may include a few slices of pizza on occasion, but is also far more than that, because college campuses are a diverse and dynamic environment, with all age groups and often with many divergent cultures and world views.   

As campus chaplains, we are engaged in pastoral care, interfaith dialog, worship, justice issues, and so much more.  Our "congregations" include students, staff and faculty of all ages, and often, particularly in the case of students, facing stresses of life away from home or trying to balance work, home and school.  We are able to provide a voice of acceptance and love for those who have been marginalized by the wider church at a time when suicide and substance abuse loom large.  And we engage our students in reflection on faith and their role in the larger society.

All of this we often do on a shoestring budget, which in my own denomination, is in danger of being reduced to $0 at our upcoming General Convention in July.  It seems that campus ministry is considered an expendable mission of the church, and yet we wonder why young adults don't come inside our doors. 

The truth is that this "first contact" on a college campus has rippling effects not only for the student, but for the church.  I have heard story after story of people whose return to church was sparked by a college chaplain, and many of those people are now in vibrant lay and ordained ministries.  

As Christians, we are called to proclaim the gospel.  We are not told it must be within the walls of a church to those who already know the healing power of God's love.  There is no better place for mission and ministry than on college campuses today - a place of great need.  May we continue to show support for this work in the decisions we make within the larger church.  

Chaplain Diana

Monday, March 26, 2012

We Must Die

I once was blessed with a visit from a monarch butterfly.  One of its wings was tattered, and as I stood there in a crowd at a summer festival, it took a moment to rest on my chest.  It stayed there for quite awhile, and then it continued on its journey.  I know that this was a message of transformation in my life, and I am often brought back to this memory at this time of year.  Next Sunday, Western Christianity will begin Holy Week, when we experience the death and resurrection of Christ in a most profound and deeply moving way.  But if we were to view death as being something solely related to the body, than we would be missing the point.

In this past Sunday's gospel reading, Jesus says to his disciples, "Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." (John 12:24, NRSV).  As he often does, he is speaking on two levels.  Yes, he is going to be put to death, and in his death, new life will grow.  But there is another death, one that all of us must undergo if we are to truly live our lives as people of God.  We must die to our fear.

Fear is what holds us back from welcoming the stranger.  Fear is what strangles us from speaking out against injustice.  Fear is what binds us in a poverty of spirit that darkens our very soul.  And it is that darkened soul that spews forth acts of violence, both verbal and physical, against others.  It is the breeding ground of ignorance and hate.

Earlier this month, a teenager, Trayvon Martin, was killed.  In the 911 calls, the man who killed him seemed consumed with fear, and even though he was told not to follow Trayvon, he did...and he shot him. 

There is a play touring now called "8" that depicts the courtroom testimony in the account of the Federal District Court trial of Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the case filed to overturn Prop. 8, which eliminated marriage equality in California.  The television cameras were blocked from the original trial after the defendants (those opposing marriage equality) fought to keep them out.  Why?  Because, as is clear when one hears the testimony, what was being put on trial there was fear and hate.

Like the butterfly, who must die to its former life as a caterpillar in order to be born anew with the ability to fly, we must also die.

We must die to our fears in order to live fully into who we are as children of God.  Just as in baptism we die into Christ's death and are re-born into Christ's life, we must die to all that binds us, all that traps us in a life of hate, violence, and anger toward our brothers and sisters on this earth - and for that matter, for all of creation.  We must die to our ignorance, our willingness to look away from the horrors of our actions in the world against other human beings, helpless creatures, the land, the sea, and the air.  

And when we die to the fear, we will be reborn to a life of light and love.  We will see the stranger as our brother or sister, the animals in the world as part of a flock over which we watch, and the earth as a precious gift.  Imagine a world such as that! 

Wishing you all the blessings of a Holy Week that brings you into the fullness of death and the resurrection to come.  May the transformation bring new life to you, that you may fly with the wind!

Chaplain Diana

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Conversations With God

The following is from a Lenten Meditation that I wrote for the Episcopal Diocese of Newark - Christian Formation Commission, and I thought I'd share it with all of you.  For more of their work, go to this website:  http://www.dioceseofnewark.org/cfc

I cry aloud to God, I cry aloud to the One who will hear me.
In the day of my trouble I sought after God;  

my hands were stretched out by night and did not tire; 
I refused to be comforted.
I think of God, I am restless; 

I ponder, and my spirit faints.
Psalm 77:1-3 (The St. Helena Psalter)


In this Lenten time it is hoped that we pray and reflect on the cross that is to come and on our lives as Christians.  It is likely that many of us experience what the Psalmist here is describing, a restlessness in prayer - a sense of the conversation being one sided.  Perhaps this stems from our looking at prayer as having a purpose, meaning that it must involve asking or thanking God for something.  Do we always have a purpose when we get together with a friend?  What if we were to look at prayer as a conversation with a friend - the greatest friend of all - our God?  How would that change us?  How would that change our relationship with prayer? 

Today, take a moment to enter into a conversation with God, to spend a moment in stillness, remembering that God is always present, and that we just need to pause for a moment to embrace the divinity that is within and all around us.  And, if you struggle to find a way to center the mind in this way, try repeating a simple prayer like the one below, allowing the rhythm of your breathing and the tempo of your heart to open your soul to God, who is longing to spend quality time with you.


My God, my friend, I am here, be with me.

Wishing you all the blessings of a Holy Lent.

Chaplain Diana

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

What Do I "Do" For Lent?

Whenever we get to Lent, the question most often pondered is "what do I give up"?  Before we consider this, I think it is important to understand the purpose of Lent.  It is a time of preparation and repentance.  By repentance, it is meant a turning back in mind and heart to God.  By preparation, it was originally a time of preparation for baptism at the Great Vigil of Easter, and now it still can be, but is more a preparation and contemplation on Christ's journey to Jerusalem and the cross, and our own personal relationship with God.

So, back to "what to do"... I don't ascribe to the idea that the only way to observe a Holy Lent is to give up something.  Giving up something has been a way to have us think about what is really important, so it is one way to observe Lent, but one can also give up by giving back.  I offer the following "Top Ten" alternatives for Lent:

  1. Buy a can of food every time you go to the grocery store, and at the end of Lent, deliver them all to a local food pantry.
  2. Stop using the "F" "B" or "N" word on Facebook.
  3. Don't post anything on Facebook that is negative about another human being.
  4. Spend fifteen minutes in the morning, and again at night, thanking God for a new day of possibilities, and for another day of living.
  5. Give blood, work in a soup kitchen one day, raise money for a charity.
  6. Commit to keeping your eyes open to the workings of God in the world each day.
  7. Reach out to an elderly family member, or a friend you haven't been in touch with (especially if you parted badly).
  8. Get up to see the sunrise, or make it a point to see it set.
  9. Do a daily spiritual practice (meditation, prayer, walking).
  10. Go on a carbon fast - give up one item each day that contributes to destruction of our environment.  Possibilities are:
    • Change a light bulb to a more energy efficient one.
    • Cut down on using plastic bags.
    • Walk rather than drive.
    • Unplug your chargers when not in use.
    • Choose a day each week when no electronics will be charged.
Use one of these "top ten"each day, rotate through them, or add a few of your own (and let us know what they are).  Most especially, open your heart each and every day to God, who loves you for all that you are, for all that you have been, and for all that you will grow to be. 

Wishing you all the blessings of a Holy Lent.


Chaplain Diana

Monday, January 30, 2012

Being Authentic

There is a viral video out now about Jesus and Religion in which a modern day prophet is saying that he loves Jesus but hates religion.  He makes some valid points about the hypocrisy inherent in those who attend church, but fail to live out the gospel of Christ in the world.  However, he generalizes this to all Christians everywhere, and in using the word "hate" is himself walking in hypocrisy.

There is a point to be made here - we cannot call ourselves Christians on Sunday, and the rest of the week not live out the Gospel of Christ.  Coming to church on Sunday is not enough.  What you put out in the world every day should be authentic to who you are, and if you are a follower of Jesus, it means that you must love God, love your neighbor and love yourself.  

We fail to do this when it is not reflected in our words and our actions.  Hopping onto Facebook and using the B, N or F words, invoking God's name or damnation, or posting snarky remarks about others, is not "walking in love as Christ loved us."  All of what we do is a part of what defines us, and that includes what one posts, tweets, or speaks.  I have heard people say that they can use these demeaning terms for women, people of color, and gay people because they are themselves a member of that group.  That is not acceptable!  Words have meaning, and these terms are ones that have for generations been used to harm, demean, and marginalize. Using them is not showing love for self or neighbor, and certainly not for God.

God is asking us to be prophets in the world, and to do this, we must be authentic to who we are called to be as followers of Christ.  Every word we say, every action we take, must be modeled on loving God, neighbor and self.  This is not to say that we don't make mistakes, that we don't harm another unintentionally.  We are humans, and we will do this.  But we must strive each day to remember that we have a responsibility to love and care for all of God's creation, so that all my fully live into who they are as children of God.  When we do this, we become the authentic prophets God calls us to be, and videos like the one described above will be a thing of the past.

So this week, think before you speak or post, and pray before you act.  Live each day doing and being your best, because you and the world will be better for it.

Chaplain Diana